Ethel wasn’t sure when she finally fell asleep. Her head was drowned in the quagmire that the weekend had proven to be. That was it. There would be no more weekends for her, and she was swayed she would now do everything to make sure she renewed her obsession for her work.
The visit with Thomas to his family party had been much more than the writing on the wall. If she didn’t see this as a signal to end the relationship, then it might as well be the end of her marriage before it ever began. What was it with marriage and this decade? Truly, the world was spherical, and the events that happen in it only ever repeated themselves again. Who would think that only a few decades ago, marriage was seen as nothing but a contractile agreement of convenience, holding no frame of shared values and compromise?
Maybe it hadn’t really changed as I thought it had. Maybe it was just mum’s fault after all, all the ideas of finding perfect love perhaps were just a stroll in a fool’s paradise. How Eve was lost in her medieval ideas, and had succeeded in roping her only child in.
The words that Thomas spoke that late Saturday night had not only crawled up her skin, but had spread through her entire pelt like leprosy. She had spent the remaining night and day, thinking hard about what Thomas had meant when he said she was already in too deep.
When she had asked him, he had produced only a sardonic smile that spelt more danger than any conviction of love he had ever proved for her.
The only way to dispel all growing nervousness or idleness that resulted all for the sake of experiencing another weekend outside the laboratory, was to have spent it in her library, studying and comparing works of history in the medical and science field, just for the sake of knowing. It all started with DARSA. That was about a century ago.
The beginning was when Professor Seidu instilled this insatiable desire in her since her foundation days in research school, something she had later termed routine learning, which had now grown to become a lifestyle rather than a last resort that served as bailout from boredom.
Recently added to her obsession was the new information she was getting from the series of advanced analyses they had conducted in the lab within the past three weeks. Her erudition was now having a direction. More like a time and a purpose.
Sometimes, she wondered if she was in any way different from the legis that were responsible for providing vital facts and statistics as regards their work in the lab. She sort for information like they did; she evaluated results and drew inferences like they did. She knew that what certainly made her human was not the ability to gather information or fact, but the capacity to create, and be creative in an ultrahigh level. It was a pathetic situation to say that any human who was unable to exist at a state such as this, was only as well as good as a legi.
Even as Ethel brushed all the maligning thoughts of her scientific malady away, it was as if she only made space for more thoughts to settle. Now she thought about how her boss made sure she took her time away from the lab. Wasn’t that the bane of the frustration at first?
No, it was the words what Thomas had said. Added to his non-verbal communication. She wanted to cuss.
Actually it was the fact that she had met Thomas through her boss Dr. Reuben who had been introduced to her by Prof Seidu, first as a proposed intern, then as suitable replacement for his assistant, and then finally his fellow scientist.
You see now! They are all intertwined. They are all connected. My troubles are all connected. Like a vicious circle. Prof Seidu – Dr Reuben – Thomas Badejeun – and back to Prof Seidu
What! She let out the cuss.
She jumped from her bed, startling Hagee in the process. She almost crushed the four legged creature as it whined irritably under her feet. Ethel made a mental note to change the temperament of her alarm clock from its indulging forbearing nature, to one of trumpic, aggressive, incessant personality. Now she was late, and all that she could say was ‘you dumb clock’.
Again, she could hear her mum’s voice in her mind saying, ‘yeah, blame it on the alarm clock’.
Sometimes, Ethel wished that she owned one of those medieval alarm clocks her mum, Eve, once spoke about. Although those days, they said, were the days of ignorance, but wasn’t time just slow and beautiful then, in comparism to the man[chine] life they now lived? It didn’t seem perfect even in spite of the advancement.
It was already eleven minutes past four in the morning. She realized she had been somewhere in between her conscious and subconscious state, never really shutting down her brain as her body eventually hibernated the night before. No, this was a new day, a new week, with bigger challenges waiting to be surmounted, and there was no way she would allow the garbage of the night before hamper her productivity. No way!
She suddenly spurn around in her sleeping holster, narrowly missing stepping on Hagee, a havoc that had showed itself twice already in the first one minute of her new week. Was that a bad omen?
No Eve, it just happened.
“Sorry, oldie.” Ethel picked up her housemate from the bedside stool she had clambered to in response to the early morning drama Ethel had exhibited.
“You know what, old darling, it’s going to be a great day, and an extremely exciting new week. For me, and you too, of course.” She remembered to add, as she snuggled the almost melancholy cat, feeling the softness of her fur.
Ethel wished she could do a thousand things at the same time. But “holla!” She screamed again, and again her housemate jerked from the kitchen table she had dropped her.
Now the big old nude coloured cat stared at her owner as if giving her a finally warning. Ethel had dropped the bag of cat cereal on the kitchen slide and dashed back towards the room.
What the heck was wrong with this lady, the cat would have spoken out if anyone cared to listen. She already made history having one of the longest list of former owners, and had seen a lot more drama, yet the sporadic nature of this present caregiver was something she certainly hope to bring to mind when she chose another owner soon. She was sure she wasn’t too old for that. She was a cat.
Ethel stopped in her tracks in the middle of her bedroom which was twice the size of her living room. Where is my pamphlet? She seethed.
She made her first guess, and sprinted the right way towards her closet. Three minutes later she came out without it. When last did I see it, peace? Peace. She exhaled.
She didn’t realize she was beginning to speak aloud. She wished she brought her tracker home, but she didn’t. She made another guess, and seemed sure this time, as she turned to enter into her study through her private bedroom door. At the door way was Hagee. She remembered she hadn’t poured her cereal before she dashed out of the kitchen. “One minute oldie, I’m looking for my pamphlet, seen it?”
She entered the study that looked more like a newly completed fashion show room but with a single desk and chair that seemed imported from two centuries ago. She walked toward it with a bashful hope that the pamphlet was in blend mood with the desk colour. She was right, as she watched the gadget flicker light from a tiny source. She couldn’t remember coming to her study this past weekend, but she realized it was something that must have escaped her mind. She voice-activated the fluid-glass gadget and the holographic screen came to life at the instant.
It showed the spot of activities she normally roamed on, but her interest was only about what happened at work, precisely in her section of the lab. She deftly navigated through the traffic that had piled up over the weekend since she had last checked.
At last she entered into the work space, and all she could see was red, which signified that dense activity had happened, or was happening there. She zoomed in to inspect the duration of the activities. The map-in showed activities started right from Thursday when the weekend began.
She remembered that she had sent the entire lab into hibernation before she left for the weekend, and the only thing she expected was a controlled process of brination which will just be ready for advancement this morning.
The only explanation was that Dr Reuben had visited the lab in her absence. She tried to holospect the lab area, but it showed that the equipment were still in hibernation.
Something occurred to Ethel. Could it be activities from the legis? And if that was the case, as she could only imagine, how come they hadn’t contacted her? Or had they?
Ethel punched on the speak button and waited a few seconds as the call connected.
“Hello Dr. Islo.” That sure was Abati’s voice.
“Tell, me. What happened in the lab?” Ethel tried to calm down, and not reveal the state she was.
“We can’t exactly explain this, but we suggest that you should come ATCF.”
It took Ethel only ten minutes to enter into DiViVo, and an additional three to make it to the lab. The drive down was more like a test of her composure. She should have remained in contact with Abati and Isaaci, cranking them for information, but she chose to spend the time muttering to herself a thousand times, hoping that she had got whatever it was, under control.
She hoped she was the first to get to the lab today, as she always was. Today, she prayed, shouldn’t be one of those days that Vokes, or Cynthia, or even Bambo the perpetual late comer decided to surprise all and show up earlier than her. Everyone knew she was the early bird, but Ethel secretly wished she was more: a lab rat. Only if the authority allowed.
The only reason she hadn’t checked on her pamphlet the entire weekend was because of Thomas. He had wanted her to do away with her job and everything related, when they went to see his family. But with his harsh and hurtful worlds, he was also able to keep her away from it when she was later home alone. She had fought herself from crying as she struggled with her door poke when she returned from the visit. Life just wasn’t fair on her.
She sighed deeply as she stood before the door.
The lead door to the lab tinged open and cooler air escaped to the adjoining passage. Isaaci and Abati were already waiting for her at the lobby, with a mixture of somber and jovial expression on their faces.
She didn’t know the first question to ask them, as they tipped their head to great her.
She inspected their expression, and was about to sling a word of reprimand when she heard movements to her right. She turned.
Every known cell in her body chilled, almost to a frozen state, as recognition set in. Despite that, all she could muster out of her lips was, “Who is this?”
After Dr. Islo had placed a call through to the lab, Abati, Isaaci, and I made a final attempt at revisiting my entrance into the scene of normal life. At first I had sat beside Dr. Islo’s office desk, and simulated how meeting her would be. I would stand up, on seeing her, and stretch out my hands for a warm shake, remembering to show off my most charming smile.
Abati didn’t think it would be good that Dr. Islo should meet me at her desk. He said she was probably going to be chased out of her skin if she stumbled on a ‘living’ dead man in her office space. So we thought of another intro. This time Abati said I should be the first person she sees when she comes in, and Isaaci and I easily saw how dumb that was.
It seemed to this twosome that Sam’s resurrection was the best thing that had ever happened to them, plus the fact that they had a huge part to play, although I wasn’t still sure who between the two of them would allow the other take the shine, when the press release was eventually made. Or if.
Isaaci suggested that I lay back into the cocoon I was immersed in. Surely, Abati saw it as a chance to retaliate and saved no words to describe how dumb the suggestion was.
At the point the first ping at the lead door sounded, the three of us were still arguing about how I was to be introduced to the young female scientist. By the second ping, both legis had raced to the door and stood before it in attention.
For the first time, I thought of how someone would react if they saw a ghost. That made me cower at the corner for a brief second as the door finally dragged open. For the first time I felt I had been inside a morgue all weekend. I watched from the point where my feet got rooted to the floor as the hysterical, frenzied petit lady stormed into the lab. Apparently, she wasn’t expecting the two legis to be standing at attention right before the door. Somehow it quelled the tension built up in her body, even if it was just by a bit. She seemed to base her inferences much more on her instinct that any technological or scientific data. She turned to her left.
“Who is this?” she asked.
I could tell that she felt her head swell and her knees knock. I could see instant fear rise in her eyes, and the palpability of the situation was that I felt helpless. True, if there was anyone who needed help, it was me, and the biggest thing I could do to help myself was to help her allay her understandable trepidation.
“Hi. It’s me, Sam.” I thought of what else to add, because the scientist stared at me with popped eyes and slacked jaws. I could see she had opted to go with her first thought, which was to run and slam on the alarm button, but I was sure she would trip on her track and make matters worse. I needed to say something more reassuring, but tried as I may, nothing soothing came forth.
“It’s me, Sam Akinfe.” I knew I wasn’t convincing enough, something that was conspicuous to me mainly because I wasn’t the real Sam. I felt I should be a little used to this body, since this wasn’t my first time in it. I shoved aside my fears, just maybe it would allow Dr. Islo get into her work role as an intrigued scientist rather than as someone who had just encountered a ghost.
It was obvious the adrenalin in her blood stream had incapacitated her rather than spring her up her board. She was frozen to the spot. Her lips quivered as she tried to form words against the will of her vocal cord.
I quickly thought of how to handle the situation and not make it any worse. One was not to move towards her, as I was sure what might happen next. I stood there and signaled the legis to take initiative.
“Dr. Islo, this is one of the dead men.” Abati gestured with his exoskeletal arm at me.
Isaaci made the first face at his compatriot, and spoke before Dr. Islo reacted to the piece of obvious information.
“Dr. Islo, this happened a few hours after you left last Thursday. The dead man came back to life.”
“That was exactly what I was about to say. You should learn to allow me conclude my statement.” Abati attacked.
“You should learn how to make better opening speeches.” Isaaci wasn’t looking at Abati, instead, he was watching to see how Dr. Islo responded.
I watched the scientist and her legis make inferences and take decisions. One side depended on facts, the other depended on emotions. I remembered Markov’s Theory I had once learnt a long time ago, and saw it in play. How possible was it really, to make a decision based solely on the present, without facts from the past?
“Dr. Islo?” I called out to her. At the present, the scientist had supported her weight with one hand on glass wall.
“Dr. Islo, this is a remarkable piece of evidence that could be useful for your research work. Dead man can be —”
“Shut up.” Dr. Islo’s voice was hard on Abati. She was definitely gradually coming out of the shock.
“Hi Dr. Islo.” I called out again.
“If you keep talking like these legis, I might have to turn you into one.” Dr. Islo directed her speech to me.
I was taken aback, not out of being spited but out of realization that the scientist felt I was now talking like one of the legis.
It wasn’t as much as what I said, was it?
“Your voice is sounding almost metallic.” She began to move towards me. I wished I could tell what was going on in her mind, or what it was that pulled her out of the frenzied state to being suddenly in control.
Her strides were long, and purposeful, and for the first time I realized she walked on six inches heel shoes. The robots marched immediately behind her in similar mannerism. I would have stumbled backwards as they approached, but before I could make a decision, she walked past me towards the rest of the lab. And so did Abati and Isaaci. I thought I saw Abati wink at me.
Was I supposed to say something? Anything? Or was I supposed to just stay close? Activity began to build up as Dr. Islo began to monitor a popped up screen. She was frantically analyzing and sending commands, while both robots bid her requests.
This was surely the start of work.
Slowly, I walked towards Dr. Islo and stood before the large holoscreen she picked data from. I tried to read what was on display, but I wasn’t sure what they meant. The information seemed to be cryptic. Actually, it was.
“If I may ask, Dr. Islo?” I cleared my throat, and waited for a response. I didn’t get any. Dr. Islo seemed engrossed in the data before her.
I looked away towards the legis. They had both entered into deep work mode.
“I’m listening, dead man.”
Woaw. Woaw. Hollit. She called me dead man too?
I thought of what I wanted to say. The essence had dissipated on hearing her comment. I swallowed a bit of saliva. It still tasted minty.
Dr. Islo paused from what she was focused on and turned to look at me. “Sam, you wanted to ask something?”
Did I even remember what I wanted to ask, sef? I thought of another question.
“What would you say happened to me?” I finally found a few words to ask her.
“Before or after?” She placed her hands on a desk in front of her.
I wasn’t sure if we were both on the same page. Before or after what?
“What happened to me? How did I get here?”
“I think the most fascinating question is how did you —” she paused, and then changed the question. “What do you remember?”
I thought of my time travel experience, but couldn’t relate it to anyone. I nodded my head, and sighed lightly. “I’m not sure of anything. I’ve been trying hard all through the weekend to make sense of all these, but —”
“Never mind what you did with the legis all through the weekend. I’ve got them here. Encrypted. Saved away. I would want to know if you remember anything before your demise.”
I paused. I didn’t know what to think, or how to manage what I was thinking. I regurgitated what she had just said. My brain was being bugged. Was bugged. All through the weekend. Did Abati and Isaaci know about this?
I shook my head slowly, not necessarily answering her. She waited for me to say something. I noted that she could be patient if the need arose.
“You should take your time, Sam. Now, I have also encrypted your profile and data until I have enough information on what we are working on. So, no one knows of your present situation except for me and anybody I deem necessary to know.”
I nodded my head.
“So if there is a chance you remember something from before you got here, I would like to know.”
“How is that even possible? I didn’t even know I was dead. You said so. So I should be asking you.”
“We know a bit. But only a bit. What I’m asking for isn’t —” She stopped herself halfway. I wondered if Dr. Islo was in the habit of not finishing her sentences and also not allowing anyone finish theirs.
“Would you mind that I keep all information away from the public?”
I thought about it.
“When I mean public, I mean even your family and everyone else.”
Why is that? I thought about it for a few seconds.
“You don’t think my family should know I’m alive again? Would that be fair?”
Dr Islo made thinking and decision making look too easy, only that I could tell she was just trying to isolate this whole matter surrounding my ‘resurrection’.
“Would you prefer to use me for your experiments without the consent of my family?”
I saw a smile crease through the female scientist’s face. It was fleeting, almost with the speed of light. A thought must have swept by. I wanted to ask what it was, instead I allowed her time to answer the pending question.
“Technically,” Dr. Islo stared at the images before her. “You are a dead man, and we have all permission to use you and every component of your being in whatever way we deem fit.” She pulled out a document from a file in the image before us. The message therein kept scrolling up, revealing a signed and countersigned statement from Theo Akinfe and Dr Reuben respectively.
It seemed this son/father of mine had taken every chance to be responsive to all that concerned me. Somehow I was happy, that if not anything, my son was in the helm of affairs of not just the country, but the entire West African region. He was a man who dictated the tune, and called the shots.
“Technically, are all my thoughts captured in this laboratory?” I looked around, diverting a little.
The young female scientist looked at me in a strange way. There was an inexplicable sense of empathy in her eyes. “Not really. Of course your conversations are recorded, then discarded if they hold no relevance or pattern that would aid any of our postulations or research work. For your thoughts, we can only ascertain the source, that is the basis, if they are good, or bad, or nervous, or threatened. Or if they are as a result of your past experiences. We can’t say for sure what goes on in your mind; we can only say a bit of your mental mood, which in itself is controlled by the mind.”
I acted like I ordinarily understood all she said.
“So,” coming back to the subject on ground. “If I had no choice, why do you ask if I don’t mind letting this piece of information out to the public?”
“Because, you can as well decide to let everyone know that you want your life back. Although, this has never happened before, I’m sure there’s some right you have as a living human entity. And that nullifies everything.”
“And so you need me now, more than I need you.”
Dr. Islo smiled. “Actually, I intend to save you from remaining dead. Because if your family gets to know about this, well, it means some other people with other agendas would also get to know. And that brings you back here. Be sure, you won’t be coming out alive the second time, however way it first happened.
“How do you know these?” I quivered lightly.
“I really don’t know. It’s just as a result of what surrounded your previous death.”
“Aha, I see.” I nodded my head. “So you know a little about my past. What do you remember?” I posed the question to her.
She saw the pun I intended to make. “It’s not what I remember, but what is on the digital space for all to see.”
“Really, my death made news.”
“And your come-back will make an even bigger news. If that’s what you want.”
“I tried to access the internet at the weekend, but couldn’t.”
“Dead man has no identity. Not until we here clear you to be alive. Till then, no access to any real information on the internet.”
“What world do we live in? I thought we are in the light age.”
“True, but this age comes with a lot of responsibilities, as you know. Dying sure makes you sound like my great grandma.”
Dr. Islo was conveniently seated on a stool; her legs crossed as she observed me through the scrutinizing eyes of a scientist. She had no smile on her lips, and now I wished I knew what went on in her mind. Her eye brows were not exactly bushy, but had overgrown the initial path she had drawn for them. If only she gave a little extra attention to herself, she might well pass for a TV host or a fashion model. I looked away and thought about what she just said.
“So you are saying you want to keep me away from the news. But for how long, and to whose gain will that be?”
“After we look at your present state, which I’m already observing, we can decide if you are ready to meet the rest of the world. Again.”
“Hmm,” my thought was clear, as I tried to make sense of what she said. “So I can’t just decide to run away, and relocate somewhere else.”
“That’s practically impossible. Not in this age. Not even in the past two decades.”
“But you said I’m a dead man. And I technically do not exist anymore.”
An empathetic smile appeared on her face. She looked up at me with pity. “That’s even a bigger challenge. You can’t buy, or sell. Or even take a so called hike without an identity.”
I was gathering information, and so far, it was all leading to a dead end.
“Dr Reuben will be here in a few minutes, and he will lead our sub-final and final test to see if your neural circuit can really carry you through, or we might as well perform an optogenetic overhaul.”
I stared at her, lost in her gibberish explanation.
She searched for the words to explain to me in a layman’s language. “That’s why I asked you if you remember anything.”
“Now back to where we started. Anything from before you died. And if possible before you had the concussion that got you bedridden and in coma for months.
On another day, I would have asked how my memory would affect the value of the Naira, but I just put the thought aside and focused on what must have got me into coma.
I remembered Suss and most members of my family asking this same question when I first came to this future. It would only take a supernatural intervention to remember what I never experienced. If only I could tell them I wasn’t Sam. I am not Sam, and would perhaps never have the chance to be.
No, there was no one to trust on that matter.
So till that super intervention showed up, I would remain Sam. Or sadly this time, Dead Man.
“Dr. Reuben should be here any moment from now.” It was apparent Dr. Islo was gifted in the habit of multitasking. She had opened up other files while conversing with me, and now, she walked towards the cocoon area.
I followed after her.
As she monitored the few cocoons that had perhaps got to their end processing, a thought hit her. “It’s remarkable, how you are so well. Your vitals are perfect, even though you had gone almost one-third of the brination process.”
How was I supposed to react to that?
I looked through the mint green glass at the bodies which lay lifeless in their respective cocoon. “Abati and Isaaci did save my life.” I felt that should make a lot of sense.
“Yes, but all these results aren’t telling us anything about how you came back to life.”
She spilt up another screen from an inconspicuous source and monitored another set of encrypted data. “Amazingly, the results got from you will be very useful, I guess. Only that it poses before us two mutually exclusive ends.”
“The result. And you.”
We can only have one and not the other?”
“The result is automatically sent to the data bank, and -”
“That leaves me to free to go?”
“Nope. Worse, it means that your organs will be harvested.”
The silence that swept past us within the split second I understood what Dr. Islo said was momentous. “I might after all have to speak one on one with the Head of DiVivo.”
“On my behalf, I hope.”
“Let’s see how it goes.”
“You won’t ascertain my bail?”
Dr. Islo would have laughed at the idea of she bailing my body, but in some sense, it was the right word.
“Let’s say we would have to push for mummification.”
“What? Doesn’t that mean I am dead already?”
“Exactly, you are dead, Dead Man. And this process of mummifying you is just to stall the process of immunology.”
From the little talk we had had so far, it wasn’t difficult to understand what she was talking about.
“Ok, what if I dared to declare being alive. What are the real consequences?”
“I may not –”
“Dr Islo?” Issaci called from down the hall. “Mr. Reuben has signed in into the facility. Just to let you know.”
We both paused our thoughts to make sense of the news Isaaci just brought. I didn’t know how to necessarily react. I merely had to let Dr. Islo handle this, and hope she reacts as fast as possible. I stayed focused on her, reading her body language closely.
“Please come with me.” Dr. Islo said, as she began to walk purposefully towards her desk. I followed closely, passing Abati on the way.
“Is everything okay?” I asked Dr. Islo.
“With all certainty. Just taking precautionary measures.”
We walked into her den and past her capsule I had spent the weekend in, and then we stood before a metal door that immediately opened as soon as it recognized Dr. Islo’s non-verbal command.
“Where are we going?”
“The less I speak of it, the safer for you. Just follow, Dead Man.”
I obeyed without any form of questioning again. After we walked through a tiny pod hole paved with reinforced metal, we came through another safe entry and eased up.
“You stay here till I come back for you.”
“How long will that be, another weekend long?”
“Let’s hope not. But again, let’s hope for life, however long it might take. You’ll be fine.”
I will be fine. I’ll be fine. I used to hear those words from someone from my past… I scanned through my memory bank in that split of a second. Those were the words of Chinwe, my ex-girlfriend.
I was never fine when she said those words. Never. The last time she used them, she was leaving me…
Before I could respond, Dr. Islo was gone, and the doors were sealed.
I was all alone here. Nobody to talk with; no past to return; no legis to interact with; no friends to trust in, and finally, no name to bear. No identity whatsoever.
For the first time, I realized truly that I was a dead man.